Volume 45 Number 26

3 reasons to drink Don Pilar tequila


1. A backstory you can cheers to

Yes, Don Pilar is actual tequila, which means it must be made in Jalisco, Mexico in the lowlands and highlands surrounding the town of Tequila. Now that we have that out of the way, I want to highlight that Don Pilar (a.k.a. Jose Pilar Contreras) is a Bay Area entrepreneur and all-around Latino success story.

Born and raised in the Jaliscan highlands, where his tequila is distilled near the town of San Jose de Gracia, tequila was always in Contreras’ blood. He moved to California in the 1960s to work the state’s orchards and fields. Later, he opened the popular Tres Amigos in Half Moon Bay in the ‘80s with two business partners. The restaurant now has three locations. 

Contreras also launched his own Amigos Grill in Portola Valley, where his whole family works and in 2002, he began work on his next venture: an anejo tequila. “Don Pilar” is so hands-on in every aspect of his businesses that it’s not uncommon to find him buying supplies and produce, working the kitchen, or even catch him supervising the agave fields in Mexico. 

2. Anejo value

You’d be hard-pressed to find a better anejo at this price. At places like the Jug Shop or K&L, Don Pilar anejo can be priced below $35, a steal for an anejo this good.

As tequila’s aged, golden counterpart, anejos usually cost far more than a blanco or reposado. This double-distilled anejo has been aged in virgin American white oak barrels with a medium char. The taste is redolent of butterscotch, chocolate, toasted agave. With a full, round finish, it has bested other anejos that cost twice as much or more to win industry awards.

3. A brand new blanco

 The company has recently added to the family with Don Pilar Blanco, a tequila that is bottled immediately after distillation. In honor of the tequila’s youth, its squat bottle sports a photo of a younger Don Pilar — the anejo bottle carries a more recent image.

But this is one younger sibling that refuses to be shown up by its elders. Clean and bright with pineapple and zest, it has a gently creamy finish. After a release party at the legendary Tommy’s (where of course you can sample both Don Pilar tequilas, in addition to restaurants like Tropisueno, Colibri, Maya, Seasons Bar at the Four Seasons, even El Farolito), it feels only right to celebrate tequilas that not only hold up in the saturated corner of the liquor world, but also have local roots. 

–Subscribe to Virgina’s twice monthly newsletter, The Perfect Spot


Appetite: 3 ways to eat and drink for a better world this month


We are blessed with a city full of entrepreneurs and humanitarians who work to create a better world. It’s encouraging to know one can eat and drink well while also meeting a need. Here are three upcoming ways to make your food dollars stretch towards some crucial causes:

4/5 Umamimart’s The Gift of Food at Burritt Room for earthquake relief in Japan
Head to one our favorite cocktail bars, Burritt Room, for a fundraising party benefiting earthquake relief efforts in northern Japan. Many have contributed towards the cause, whether it’s Tommy Guerrero and DJ Toph One setting the mood with music or Peko Peko Japanese Catering and Sandbox Bakery serving bites. Plenty of booze has been donated ensuring fine sips throughout the evening: Yamazaki Whisky, Joto Sake, The Glenrothes Whisky, Brugal Rum, GlenGrant Scotch, Bulleit Bourbon + Rye. 100% of your ticket goes to Second Harvest Japan, the country’s first food bank.
Tuesday, 4/5, 8pm
Burritt Room,
417 Stockton, SF. (at Sutter)
(415) 400-0500

4/7 22nd Annual Share Our Strength Taste of the Nation to fight childhood hunger
Taste of the Nation is annually one of our most meaningful events, fighting childhood hunger in America, where nearly 17 million children (almost one in four) face daily hunger. Every dollar donated buys $9 of groceries to feed children in need, while 100% of ticket sales go towards Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry in the Bay Area. Participating restaurants, chefs and mixologists all give of their time, talent and resources… the line-up is no less than stellar, including honorary chef co-chairs, Traci Des Jardins of Jardiniere and Incanto’s Chris Cosentino. Check out the impressive participator list here.
Thursday, 4/7, 6:30-9:30pm (VIP reception at 5:30pm)
The Bently Reserve, 301 Battery Street
$95 for General Admission – This ticket will feed a child in need for 6 months
$165 for VIP Level access – This ticket will feed a child in need for 1 year
$500 for Executive Level access – This ticket will feed a child in need for 3 years

4/7 Toast of the Town at City Hall towards global poverty with San Francisco CARE
There’s a humble, little venue called City Hall (!) that will be overrun with food and wine on the night of April 7th for Wine Enthusiast’s annual Toast of the Town. Over 500 wines/65 wineries and food from more than 30 local restaurants (including Saison, Twenty Five Lusk, Bar Agricole, Alexander’s Steakhouse, Comstock Saloon), will keep you well satiated into the night in City Hall’s dramatic, elegant environs. A portion of the tickets goes towards San Francisco CARE, fighting global poverty with everything from education to economic development.
Thursday, April 7, 6pm (VIP), 7-10pm Grand Tasting
$109 Grand Tasting, $169 VIP
City Hall, 1 Dr Carlton B. Goodlett Place

–Subscribe to Virgina’s twice monthly newsletter, The Perfect Spot

Chauncey Bailey Project reports


Following the murder of Oakland journalist Chauncey Bailey in 2007, allegedly to prevent him from exposing the financial dealings of Your Black Muslim Bakery, the Guardian joined with other Bay Area media outlets in an award-winning investigative project known as the Chauncey Bailey Project. The murder trial of two men accused of ordering the killing by admitted shooter Devaughndre Broussard began March 21, and we’ve been running coverage from the project on the SFBG Politics blog. Here are some excerpts, written by Thomas Peele, an investigative reporter with the project who works at the Contra Costa Times (with reporter Josh Richman contributing to some reports).



Devaughndre Broussard burst into laughter before jurors as he described how he shot and killed the relative of the man who had killed Yusuf Bey IV’s brother.

Broussard described how the man, Odell Roberson, started to run when he saw Broussard come at him with a shotgun in summer 2007.

“I said, ‘Stop or I’m going to fire!’ ” Broussard said, before bursting into laughter, then turning his head and stifling his laughs into his arm.

He said he fired eight to 10 assault rifle rounds into Roberson’s chest. “I think I shot him face forward,” Broussard testified. “He hit the ground. I think he fell backward.”

Broussard is on the witness stand for the second day in the triple-murder trial of Your Black Muslim Bakery leader Yusuf Bey IV and bakery member Antoine Mackey. Broussard said he killed Roberson and a second man, journalist Chauncey Bailey, at Bey IV’s order. Mackey is charged with helping in both those killings and with the murder of a third man, Michael Wills. Bey IV and Mackey, both 25, have pleaded not guilty.

Broussard is the prosecution’s star witness in the case. He has pleaded guilty to killing Roberson and Bailey and will receive a 25-year sentence in exchange for his testimony.



Broussard first entered Judge Thomas Reardon’s crowded courtroom at 11:39 a.m. wearing shackles and a red jail jumpsuit. He passed in front of the defense table where Bey IV and codefendant Antoine Mackey sat staring at him intently; he didn’t meet their eyes. Bey IV wore a tan suit and a bow tie — the symbol of the Black Muslim movement that Broussard said he joined in 2006.

During afternoon testimony, Broussard described participating in a 2006 shooting of an unoccupied car with other members of Your Black Muslim Bakery. Prosecutor Melissa Krum contends that shooting illustrates the bakery’s command structure: Bey IV issued orders to others to commit crimes on his behalf.

Broussard described being in a room at the bakery when Bey IV’s half-brother, Yusuf Bey V, came to him, gave him a pistol-grip shotgun, and told him Bey IV wanted a car shot to bits. The car belonged to a man with whom the Bey brothers had a dispute.

“I fired it until it was empty five or six times,” Broussard said of the shotgun. He would later use it, Broussard told a grand jury in 2009, to kill Bailey, also on Bey IV’s order.



A police officer is testifying in the murder trial of journalist Chauncey Bailey that he seized two loaded, sawed-off shotguns from the bedrooms of key players in the case.

One, a 12-gauge Remington, was under a bed in defendant Antoine Mackey’s bedroom, Officer Bruce Christensen of the Oakland Police Department, told jurors.

The other, a 12-gauge Mossberg, was found outside a bedroom window. Bailey’s confessed killer, Devaughndre Broussard, told a grand jury that was the Bailey murder weapon. It was loaded with five rounds, Christensen said.



As a teenager with a stutter, Bailey spent a lot of time in the library at Hayward High School immersing himself in books so he wouldn’t have to talk to people.

The stutter went away, but Bailey’s love of the written word did not. He spent nearly 40 years in journalism before being gunned down as he walked to his job as editor of the Oakland Post on Aug. 2, 2007. 

Compiled by Guardian staff. View more at www.chaunceybaileyproject.org

Editor’s Notes



The San Francisco City Planning Department is revising its housing plan, and there’s a lot of indignation on the west side of town. See, the Housing Element of the city’s General Plan calls for a little bit of increased density in some of the neighborhoods that have fought density for years.

The unwritten law of San Francisco housing politics is that you don’t even talk about density west of 19th Avenue, and it’s pretty hard to talk about it anywhere beyond the western borders of Districts 3, 5, 8 and 11. So all the new housing gets pushed into the eastern neighborhoods — and all the rational planning people agree that the other side of town should absorb at least some of it. Density doesn’t always mean big, tall buildings, by the way — legalizing in-law units would create more housing, and more density, in single-family-home areas. But you run into the problem of everyone wanting a car — and turning garages into apartments means more cars fighting for that almighty parking space. Housing cars in this town sometimes seems more important than housing people.

So we’re going to hear some squawking — and a lot of it’s going to be misplaced. Because the real issue in the Housing Element isn’t density — it’s affordability.

The city acknowledges, in its own documents, that based on local needs, more than 60 percent of the new housing in the city has to be available at below-market-rate prices. The planners also admit they have no idea how to make that happen:

“The city will not likely see the development 31,000 new units, particularly its affordability goals of creating over 12,000 units affordable to low and very low income levels projected by the [city’s needs assessment] … [But] realizing the city’s housing targets requires tremendous public and private financing, [which] given the state and local economy and private finance conditions, is not likely to be available during the period of this Housing Element.”

Translation: we can’t afford to do what everyone agrees we have to do.

San Francisco city planning has been driven for decades by the needs of the private sector. It’s made good money for the developers (building housing in SF is still highly lucrative). But as public policy, the model has failed.

Until we set clear policies saying that the needs of local residents come first — and that high-end housing isn’t meeting those needs — we’re going to keep living with a serious disconnect.

Progressive pension reform


EDITORIAL It’s entirely possible that San Francisco voters will see three different pension proposals on the November ballot. Public Defender Jeff Adachi, who failed to pass a harsh pension-reform plan last year, is determined to try again. A working group headed by investment banker Warren Hellman is working on a plan, and Sup. Sean Elsbernd expects some version of that to move forward. And organized labor may do its own initiative.

But before any of those efforts are finalized, it’s worth understanding where this so-called crisis originated — and how to fashion a progressive approach to the issue.

The idea behind San Francisco’s fixed-benefit system is simple. Every year, the city and it’s employees contribute to a pension fund, which is invested under strict rules, and when an employee retires, he or she gets paid a predetermined amount out of that fund. Until the financial system imploded and the stock market crashed in 2008, San Francisco’s pension fund was solid. The reserves more than covered expected payouts. In fact, the fund was so healthy, and growing so fast, that some years the city didn’t have to contribute anything at all.

Under Mayors Willie Brown and Gavin Newsom, the city used its flush pension fund as a way to avoid tough decisions on employee pay. Instead of giving raises, for example, the city offered to pick up the contributions some workers were making to the fund (which would cost the city nothing as long as the stock market kept booming).

Now things aren’t so rosy, and the city’s having to put hundreds of millions a year into the fund to keep it solvent. For the record, that’s not the fault of the city employees who negotiated their contracts in good faith — and who weren’t players in the Wall Street greed and corruption that wrecked the economy. In fact, if the city had continued paying into the fund in good times, the costs would be far lower now.

The various pension proposals look at a wide range of approaches, but in essence, both Adachi and Hellman’s group are going to ask city employees to put more of their paychecks into the pension fund. That’s the equivalent of a pay cut — they’ll be taking home less money for the same benefits they currently receive.

It’s true that city employees now get better pensions than most private-sector workers (a result in part of the fact that corporate American, aided by Congress, shifted most retirement plans to the 401(k) model, which puts all the risk on the employees and leaves employers largely off the hook). And there’s some horrendous abuse, particularly by senior police and fire staffers (former Police Chief Heather Fong is getting $229,000 a year for life, which is ridiculous).

It’s also true that the average midlevel city worker gets a pension between $20,000 and $24,000 a year.

Labor has already given back some $500 million in concessions over the past four years (and most of that money has come from lower and midlevel workers) City programs and services have been cut, by most estimates, by close to $1 billion.

The city has raised only $90 million in new taxes.

The bottom line is that over the past four years, the rich and big corporations, which are radically undertaxed in our society, have given back almost nothing to the city, have felt almost no pain. Unless pension reform takes that into account, it won’t be fair or acceptable.

The first element of any new pension plan should be progressive in scale: capping pensions at, say, $100,000 (or lower); eliminating pension spiking; and requiring high-paid employees to contribute a higher percentage to the fund than low-paid workers would make sense. Policy makers should treat this as what it is, a pay cut — and any cuts should fall disproportionately on those who are more able to afford it. Requiring the city to put its share into the fund every year, even if the market is booming, would help ease the pain in bad years.

But there should be no pension reform without tax reform. If San Francisco is going to ask its employees to do more to balance the local budget — and that probably has to happen — then city officials should be willing to ask the richest residents and businesses to share the pain too.

Why I’m pushing pension reform


OPINION Some have questioned why I, as a long-time supporter of progressive policies and programs, chose to venture into the uncharted waters of pension reform. The answer is simple: I believe in the value of government, particularly in providing a safety net for the poor and those who need help. When the government no longer has the ability to provide these services, everyone suffers.

I became aware of San Francisco’s pension problem through advocating for my department’s budget. Beginning in 2005, year after year, I saw pension and benefits costs rise, while services and programs were cut or eliminated. Funding for education, parks, street repair, AIDS, senior and after-school youth programs, mental health clinics, drug treatment programs and other basic services have evaporated while pension costs continue to escalate. Today, we spend $1 out of every $7 on pension and benefit costs for city employees; in five years, it will be one out of every $4.

In the next 12 months, pension costs are projected to increase by nearly $100 million more than last year. Think of the number of jobs, programs, and services that will have to be cut to pay this debt. These costs come at a time when the city faces a $360 million budget deficit.

Some may argue that taxes should be raised to pay for these costs. Yet progressives have shied away from tax measures in these difficult economic times. Even if there is a planned tax measure this November, it would have to raise $300 million — 10 times what last November’s millionaire real estate transfer tax raised — over the next three years to keep pace with pension costs.

While conservatives have seized on rising pension and benefit costs as a vehicle to push their anti-union agenda, we cannot cede the responsibility for addressing this fiscal challenge to the right. We must protect collective bargaining for workers, while presenting a solution that strikes an appropriate balance between our obligations to retired workers and the need for continued city services.

Shortly, I will be introducing a new ballot initiative that will help reduce costs while ensuring that the pension and health benefit system is there for future generations of workers. And the initiative will do so in a manner that is fair and equitable. The highest-earning workers, including elected officials, will be asked to contribute more while the lowest-earning workers will be entirely exempt, a lesson learned from the last pension reform effort. The reforms will help eliminate the abuses of the pension system that benefit a few workers at the expense of others. Residents, elected officials, city employees, and labor leaders are invited to review the proposals at www.sfsmartreform.com and provide any comments or ideas.

The fact that pension reform is one critical component of a more comprehensive solution that may include changes to our tax policy, generation of other revenue, and even state or federal cooperation, is no reason to excuse supporting real reform.

Jeff Adachi is San Francisco’s public defender.

The Parkmerced investors



Parkmerced is one of the largest rental properties west of the Mississippi, and with more than 1,500 rent-controlled units, it’s an important piece of the city’s affordable-housing stock. Among the residents who live in the neighborhood-scale apartment complex are seniors, young families, and working-class San Franciscans, some of whom have called it home for decades.

A plan for an extraordinary overhaul of the property envisions tearing down the existing low-rise apartments and nearly tripling the number of units with a construction project that could take up to 30 years. On March 29, after Guardian press time, the Board of Supervisors was scheduled to vote on whether to uphold the plan’s environmental impact report (EIR), a key milestone of the approval process.

The Planning Commission voted 4-3 to certify the EIR, and if the board followed suit by rejecting four different appeals filed against it, Parkmerced would be on track to clear final approval sometime in May.

San Francisco Tomorrow was among the groups that filed appeals against the Parkmerced plan. “They want to destroy a neighborhood without sufficient justification or mitigation,” said Jennifer Clary, the group’s president, citing concerns about traffic congestion, loss of an historic landscape, and the destruction of rent-controlled housing.

Julian Lagos, a resident of 18 years, filed an appeal on behalf of the Coalition to Save Parkmerced. “It’s a very blue-collar community, and they want to replace it with wall-to-wall luxury high-rise condos,” said Lagos, who lives in a unit that would be targeted for demolition under the development plan. “I call it ground zero,” he said. “And I tell my neighbors, ‘You’re living at ground zero.’ “

Mayoral development advisor Michael Yarne noted that most points highlighted in the EIR appeals had already been addressed, except one charging that there hadn’t been adequate consideration over whether a Pacific Gas & Electric Co. gas pipeline running underground near Parkmerced could be jeopardized by construction activity. “The answer to that is, that’s a really good question for PG&E,” Yarne said. But he asserted that it wasn’t a project EIR issue.

Elected officials’ reactions to the overall plan were mixed. Lagos noted that campaign filings showed that Sups. Carmen Chu and Sean Elsbernd had accepted donations from people related to the project, and he predicted that Board of Supervisors President David Chiu would be a swing vote on the issue. Chiu spent several hours touring Parkmerced the Friday before the vote. He did not return Guardian calls seeking comment.

A development agreement between the city and the developer, Parkmerced Investors LLC, promises that existing tenants will keep their rent control at the same monthly rates — even after the apartments they now reside in are razed to make way for new residential towers.

Such a plan typically wouldn’t fly under state law because the Costa-Hawkins Act prohibits a city from imposing rent control on newly constructed housing. Yet city officials, with input from the City Attorney’s Office, say they’ve constructed this deal so that it falls within one of the exceptions written into the state law, offering a legal defense in the event of a court challenge and a guarantee against affordable housing loss.

“The development agreement is like a constitution for land use,” said Yarne. “You can’t get rid of it.” If the project changed hands or the developer went bankrupt, the new owner would be bound by the same terms, Yarne said.

However, Mitchell Omerberg of the Affordable Housing Alliance cautioned that he didn’t believe there was any guarantee that rent-control housing qualified as an exception under Costa-Hawkins. “Like parking a semitruck in a motorcycle space, it’s a poor fit and a risky bet — even before you consider the antipathy to rent control of the California courts,” Omerberg wrote in an argument against the plan.

Tenants advocacy groups have pointed to recent court decisions negating affordable-housing agreements in development projects, saying the legal precedent makes the Parkmerced pact vulnerable to a court challenge. In response, Yarne said those cases had strengthened the city’s legal strategy for formulating the agreement to guard against such a challenge. “This agreement is actually greatly improved because of those cases,” he said.

Nevertheless, there’s a clear financial incentive for the developer to strip away the rent-control unit replacement and other valuable community benefits it is required to deliver under the terms of its agreement with the city. An independent analysis of the project’s financial plan found that if Parkmerced Investors LLC adheres to all the terms of the agreement as planned, its financial rate of return would be less than ideal.

Drafted by consultant CB Richard Ellis (CBRE) to provide an objective financial picture for the city, the report found that the developer’s estimated 17.8 percent rate of return was “slightly below the threshold required to attract the necessary private investment” because investors aim for at least 20 percent in this market. “This means that, based on current and reasonably foreseeable short-term market conditions, the project may not be economically feasible,” the report noted. It added a disclaimer saying that cash flow from rent payments could offset that risk.

That lower rate of return isn’t a cause for concern, Yarne said, but rather a sign of the city’s negotiating prowess, since “we’ve gotten as much as we can in terms of public benefits. That 17.8 percent rate of return shows that we’re probably at the max.”

At the same time, the financial analysis showed that the developer’s prospects improved under hypothetical “tested scenarios” where the expensive community benefits promised in the development agreement weren’t a factor. As part of the analysis, CBRE looked at how the numbers would change if the developer decided to build new market-rate units instead of replacing all the existing rent-controlled units, and found it would fetch a 19 percent rate of return. In a scenario where it stripped out additional costs such as a community garden and new transit line, the rate of return would jump to an eye-catching 23 percent.

But those scenarios are just a hypothetical way to arrive at conclusions about a project’s value, said consultant Mary Smitheran, who drafted the report. “The development agreement specifies that those items need to be provided,” she said.

City officials have given the impression that they’re nailing down a set of requirements that the developer, or any future property owner, cannot get out of. But the people behind this project are some savvy Wall Street investors who are no strangers to controversy.

Fortress Investment Group, a New York City-based hedge fund and private equity firm with directors hailing from Lehman Brothers and Goldman Sachs, gained a controlling interest in Parkmerced last year after Stellar Management couldn’t make the payment on its $550 million debt.

Stellar jointly purchased the property in 2005 with financial partner Rockpoint Group, setting up Parkmerced Investors LLC as the official ownership company. Stellar still manages the property, but Fortress has seized financial control. A recent report on the Commercial Real Estate Direct website noted that its $550 million debt had been modified recently with a five-year extension to 2016.

Fortress made headlines in 2009 after it stopped providing funds to Millennium Development Corp. for the Olympic Village project in Vancouver, British Columbia leaving the city on the hook for hundreds of millions to finish the job in time for the winter games. Meanwhile, Fortress CEO Daniel Mudd recently got formal notification from the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) that he could potentially face civil action relating to his former job as CEO of Fannie Mae, the government-backed mortgage giant, for allegedly providing misleading information about subprime loans.

Stellar, a New York City company run by real-estate tycoon Larry Gluck, was profiled in a 2009 Mother Jones article about Riverton Homes, a 1,230-unit Manhattan rental housing project built in a similar style to Parkmerced, which Stellar purchased in 2005. Although Stellar assured residents that their affordable rental payments would remain unaffected, hidden from view was its business plan estimating that half the tenants would be paying almost triple the rental rates by 2011. Since rents couldn’t ultimately be raised high enough to cover the debt payments, the complex went into foreclosure — but Stellar was shielded against loss because, on paper, Riverton was owned by a separate LLC.

Linh Le, a 36-year resident of Parkmerced and former Chevron employee, wrote to the Board of Supervisors in advance of the March 29 hearing to warn of the financial troubles the investors had experienced before.

“This project reflects a pipe dream that was hatched during an era of reckless spending, fake prosperity, and seemingly limitless money that has since crashed and nearly destroyed America,” he wrote. “The business model that Parkmerced based this plan on has failed and nearly ruined their enterprise. That era is over and the world has changed.”

Scumlords settle



Five years after the Guardian’s award-winning, three-part series about how representatives for the Lembi family allegedly engaged in illegal and unethical tactics intended to force protected renters from their homes (“The Scumlords,” March 2006), City Attorney Dennis Herrera has concluded contentious negotiations to reach a multimillion dollar settlement with CitiApartments and other Lembi-controlled corporations.

The two sides have agreed on a settlement worth anywhere between $1 million and $10 million to the city, depending on the crumbling real estate empire’s future worth and whether the Lembi family decides to “forever cease property management operations within the City and County of San Francisco — permanently and irrevocably,” as the City Attorney’s Office put it.

That agreement and an injunction barring the landlords from future harassment of tenants was scheduled for submission to San Francisco Superior Court on March 29 and still must be approved by a judge, although that is usually pro forma in cases like this in which both sides have agreed to the terms.

In its lawsuit, the city alleged that the defendants “employed a business model that systematically and unlawfully dispossessed long-term residential tenants of their rent-controlled apartments, leaving defendants free to make significant unpermitted renovations and to re-rent those newly renovated units at dramatically increased market rates.

“Ostensibly, this illegal business model enabled Lembi family interests to aggressively outbid competing investors for perhaps hundreds of residential properties throughout San Francisco,” the complaint continued, further alleging that the defendants’ business entities were organized and operated in such a way that they were “the alter egos of defendants Frank Lembi, Walter Lembi, and David Raynal.”

The defendants disputed those claims, the injunction notes, “by reaching a settlement and agreeing to injunctive terms and payment of civil penalties, defendants are not admitting any wrongdoing or making any admission of liability.”

But the City Attorney’s Office said that this is “the most exhaustively detailed settlement in memory, and the strongest possible agreement to protect the public interest.” And Herrera told us that the settlement reflects “the pervasiveness of the conduct” the city looked at, regarding tenant treatment and the litigation process.

“So, it was necessary to get as tough and detailed an injunction as possible to ensure that tenants will be protected going forward, and in terms of trying to extract a maximum dollar settlement,” Herrera told us. “For us, their conduct is the most important thing, but the financial penalties are not insignificant. This ensures they do business under strict circumstances, play by the rules, and do not present a threat to tenants. But if they want to leave, obviously, there’s a dollar amount connected to that.”

The lowest possible settlement, $1 million, requires the Lembi companies to quickly get out of the rental business in San Francisco. The settlement comes almost five years after Herrera first filed suit against CitiApartments — and 18 months after former CitiApartments’ tenants sued the Lembi empire (see “SF vs. Frank Lembi,” 10/6/2009), following a financial crash that involved banks foreclosing on dozens of the group’s properties (see “Triumph of tenacity,” 6/1/2010).

The City Attorney’s litigation included evidence from tenants and other witnesses identified by former Guardian reporter G.W. Schultz, and Herrera credited the Guardian with originating the case. CitiStop, a coalition of labor and tenants groups, also referred tenants and helped the case, and almost 300 tenants and witnesses came forward after the city’s 2006 filing.

The City Attorney’s Office noted that Herrera amended his original complaint three times to fully capture the Lembi family’s “byzantine array of business entities, trusts, and partnerships within the scope of the lawsuit,” fighting through corporate stall tactics that were the subject of fines issued by the courts.

Even after their unscrupulous tactics were exposed, the Lembis continued to be celebrated by business groups such as the San Francisco Apartment Association, although city officials told us “real estate observers had long speculated that the Lembi family’s unlawful business model was ultimately unsustainable. And the severe economic downturn that began in late 2008 appears to have been cataclysmic for the aspiring real estate empire.”

Take back the knit



STREETWISE The dinosaur outside my library makes my day. Someone knit a little green bike rack cozy with floppy yellow spikes, right next to the rack that now has a custom-sized, rainbow-colored, beaded sweater. Indeed, the whole neighborhood has been knit-tagged — the stretch of Divisadero between Post and California streets has nary a rack that hasn’t been dressed against the spring chills.

The woman who answered the phone at Atelier Yarns, the knitting store down the block on Divisadero, didn’t know who had done the pieces, which is not to say they’d gone unnoticed. “They’re really good,” she said. “I wish I knew who had done them.”

Digging further, I fell into the deep abyss of Internet craft blogs and found that the Western Addition isn’t the only place where knit is joining the textures of the concrete jungle. Across the world, “yarn bombing” groups have sprung up. Last year, a group altered the Oakland-Berkeley border’s controversial “Here There” statues, knitting a colorful cozy over the T in “There” that renders the words equal, symbolically erasing the hierarchical positioning of the two bergs. There have been knitted seat covers on Philly’s Blue line subway and a knitted tank cover in shades of Pepto-Bismol pink in Copenhagen — not to mention jauntily decorated stop signs, trees, and railings the world over.

Magda Sayeg, a.k.a. PolyCotn, is generally regarded as the mother of this peaceful barrage. So I called her to find out why she — and now the rest of the world — yarn bombs.

It all started seven years ago with a knit cover for the doorknob of her Houston art studio. “It was about me making my door-handle pretty,” she remembers. Then she knitted a cover for a stop sign, which attracted lots of attention. “People would get out of the car, take pictures, scratch their head.”

She did more pieces. She formed a yarn bomb collective called “Knitta Please.” Since then, Sayeg has knitted everything from a riotously rainbow cover on a Mexico City bus to a powder pink coat for a single stone on the Wall of China.

Sayeg’s work makes knitting, once a private activity, part of the public domain. “You’re taking something so traditional and homey and placing it in an environment — graffiti art, it’s so male-dominated.”

Which is not to say that she doesn’t locate yarn bombing inside the tradition of street art. “I identify with the street artists more than the knitters,” Sayeg says, remembering the first time she saw the moaning cartoon faces of a gallery show by seminal SF street artist Barry McGee. “That really rocked my perception of what street art was. You could say [the yarn bombing] story started there.”

Like “traditional” street artists, Sayeg uses her creations to make her mark on her physical surroundings. She loves tagging the redundant bits of the urban landscape, like street posts whose signs have been removed and rendered useless. “It’s a visual pollution that we just accept. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t cover up something that’s not needed.” She pointed to the 3-D video game sprites of Space Invader and moss graffiti artists like Edina Tokodi as others who “are putting the can down” in the street art world.

But Sayeg also likes how yarn bombing questions the assumptions of what knitting is, which brings us to the question of the genre’s feminist interpretation. Though there are certainly male yarn bombers, you can’t deny that this kind of functional art, and craft in general, has historically been thought of as “women’s work” — and has had its worth denigrated and minimized as such. With yarn bombing, “there’s something there that might make people uncomfortable. An edge to something that never seems edgy. Like we’re supposed to be making sweaters and socks,” Sayeg says.

That stereotype has been turned on its head by craft activism, a form of protest that has its modern day roots in the 1980s and ’90s peace demonstrations at Greenham Common Royal Air Force base in England, where the U.S. military installed cruise missiles in 1981. Women gathered around the cyclone fencing at the base, stuffing its grid with knitted objects and hoisting handmade signs that read “Women’s Struggle Won The Vote, Now Let’s Use It For Disarmament.”

More recently, as Kirsty Robertson recounts in an essay in Extra/Ordinary (Duke University Press, 306 p., $24.95), the Revolutionary Knitting Circle held a “knit-in” at the 2002 G-8 summit in Alberta, Canada. Betsy Greer — who has a day job as an anti-sweatshop activist and also wrote an essay in Extra/Ordinary — coined the term “craftivism” to describe efforts similar to her own antiwar cross-stitch art. In Greer’s words, craftivism is “about using what you can to express your feelings outward in a visual manner without yelling or placard-waving. It was about channeling that anger in a productive and even loving way.”

Which is not to say that all urban crafters — as I’ve come to think of the men and women reclaiming textile and other forms of craft in a modern setting — are explicitly political. I was reminded of Sayeg’s desire to subvert the masculine face of street art when I visited the SoMa studio of Amy Ahlstrom, a San Francisco textile artist who is taking images from the walls of cities and translating them into painstakingly crafted quilts.

Ahlstrom, who has made her own clothes since her Molly Ringwald childhood, started quilting as an art student in 1991. She had a successful career in comic art and returned to stitching in 2005. “To me, this is a very natural thing,” she says, surrounded by her eye-popping creations hanging on stark white walls. “This was the most unique way I could speak to the world.”

Living in the Mission, Ahlstrom found the neighborhood’s murals, street signs, and tags an integral part of her city life. She began photographing them and was struck by an urge to alter their context. “I saw this tag and thought, ‘Wouldn’t that be funny in gingham?’ “

Like a textile DJ, she cut and sewed patterns made from the digital images she had captured into textured Dupioni silk. Now she’s working on a series of pieces dedicated to the visual cues of specific neighborhoods. Her SoMa quilt contains depictions of furniture leaping from public art installation “Defenestration”‘s decrepit Sixth Street building, Jeremy Novy’s ubiquitous stenciled koi, and the neon signs of Holy Cow and Brainwash. She’s not the only artist to harness the power of the quilt — Ben Venom is another SF quilter who creates heavy metal motifs from old band shirts (his “Listen to Heavy Metal While You Sleep!” skull-cross design is a Guardian staff favorite).

Ahlstrom brings the street to textile and the yarn bombers bring their textiles to the street, but they all work to the same end. Though Ahlstrom’s pieces will sell for hundreds of dollars and hang like the gallery pieces that they are, she creates them with the intention of breaking down the art world stipulation that craft cannot be art.

She cites the Gee’s Bend quilts as one inspiration for her work. Gee’s Bend is a small Alabama River community whose women inhabitants came together to have their quilts exhibited by the Houston Museum of Fine Arts in 2002, to great critical acclaim. In contrast to previous exhibitions, the quilts were not divorced from their functional use — museum literature placed the stories of Gee’s Bend quilters front and center in an attempt to highlight how the beauty of their geometric patterns was accentuated, not diminished, by their status as household objects.

So what did the gentle crafter of my beloved dinosaur have in mind when she or he looped that clover green around the bike rack? You’d have to ask the knitter — but at the very least, they’ve made their presence known.

alt.sex.column: Positive too negative?


Dear Andrea:

I’m a 40-something M2F transsexual woman (though my gender status isn’t that important). I recently met a great guy I’ll call John and I’ve developed feelings for him. I’d jump his bones in two seconds except for one thing; he’s HIV-positive.



Dear Para:

It would be hard to come up with a decision more individual and personal than this one. Plus, this isn’t a situation where I can pooh-pooh your concerns. Of course you have concerns. I have them for you.

Although having some sort of sex with an HIV-positive person is hardly risk-free, it is undertaken nightly by thousands of people who never sero-convert. There are condoms, and condoms are quite good at what they do. And there are all the noninsertive things one can do that are more or less incapable of introducing any virus. It may not be what you want, but it’s doable and, under the right circumstances, you can build a sex life based on what you’ve got rather than what’s missing.

If your big fear is not contracting the virus yourself, but loving somebody who already has it, there is no cute trick with latex or frottage that is going to fix that. Most any article you pull up on the subject is going to contain the statement, “HIV is no longer a death sentence.” Which is true as far as it goes, but it’s not like it’s no longer a problem. Either one of you could be hit by that bus that always crops up when people are discussing the capriciousness of fate. But he could also stop responding to his meds, or develop debilitating side effects, or follow some other course we’re not too up on yet because it occurs 40 years after starting therapy and nobody’s done that yet. We don’t know. And we, being human, like to.

But this sounds like something you can’t just walk away from — you have, as you say, “developed feelings.” But neither is it something you can just walk into. If you’re going to make a go of it, the two of you are going to have to get a therapist with expertise in exactly these issues and work through some stuff. You’re going to admit your concerns. To him. And he’s going to have to admit whatever it is he feels about the prospect of undertaking a long-term threesome: you, him, and HIV.

On other hand, you two are not officially an item yet. You do not have to do this. He probably wouldn’t think less of you if you decided you couldn’t hack it. Well, OK, actually, he might, but you can’t make a huge decision like this one on the basis of conflict-avoidance.

On the other, other hand, it’s possible your decision will get made for you when you spend more time together and find that he’s hopelessly argumentative about baseball trivia or in some other way not nearly as dreamy as you thought. And then you can ditch him with a clear conscience.



Stuck on my craw



CHEAP EATS Finally! Business as usual, here at Cheap Eats. But before I start talking about sports, there’s a little more I want to say about the poop in Coach’s garage.

It came with a few sheets of toilet paper on top. And when her landlord found it he said, “Hey, was there a dog running around in the garage?” I stayed in the house while Coach went out to see for herself. She was pretty sure that dogs didn’t use toilet paper, she said.

Then they both cleaned it up, and Coach started down that long, rocky road to forgetfulness. You know, at first I was on her side, but now it’s one week later and she keeps bringing it up. So I guess that means I’ll keep writing about it.

Blame Papa for not letting us talk about football last night, over sushi.

We lost 32-6. Speaking of shit. Maybe that had something to do with why Papa, our Center, didn’t want to talk about it. Actually, 32-6 was less than we expected to lose by. This would have been the first time in sports history that a 32-6 loss went down as a “moral victory” — except for one minor problem: they only had six players, and we had 14.

Athleticism is a wonderful thing to watch, even when you are covered in mud with cleat marks in your cheek. I’m not saying that’s what happened. We play on turf, so I was covered in little black turf balls with cleat marks in my cheek.

You know how they say that winning isn’t everything? Well, neither is losing. Traditionally.

We might change that, but in the meantime the troops remain optimistic and cheerful. My favorite moment was watching our quarterback chasing down yet another interceptor, late in the game, while laughing her head off.

She’s a rugby player. We may be the most bad-assedly bad team in the league, if not sports. We have a couple field hockey players, two to three soccer players, a basketball star, and maybe a little softball experience. But only two of us have ever played American football outside of bed and/or high school gym class.

We will have our day. It just might not be in my own personal lifetime.

After the trouncing, I made the mistake of going to Rockin’ Crawfish on Lake Merritt with the de la Cooter fambly. As if I didn’t already know what it means. To miss New Orleans.

While I was there — down South, that is — I kept sending pictures to Crawdad de la Cooter’s mister, Mr. Crawdad de la Cooter, of all the wonderful things I was eating, which included of course fried oyster po’ boys with bacon and cheese, and even more of course, crawfish etouffe, crawfish pie, and crawfish.

First he kind of begged me for mercy. Then he gave up on mercy and wrote me about a place they found in Oakland with “passable boiled crawfish.” When he brought it up again, upon my reentry, I thought he was trying to be helpful. I should have known he was plotting his revenge.

Passable? Maybe, if you haven’t been anywhere near Louisiana for at least four years. Mere days after feasting on Kjean’s with Cherry, B.B., and Hedgehog … forget about it.

I love Cajun. I love Asian. I love fusion. Authenticity means nothing to me. Berkeley has better Chicago pizza than Chicago, and the best pizza I ever ate was in Germany. I’d pit Just For You’s po’ boys against any I had in New Orleans.

Rockin’ Crawfish … just … doesn’t. Like Red, here in the city, it’s like they’re trying too hard. They crash the garlic over your head and blast you with hot sauce. And I love both those things but don’t associate either one with great crawfish.

The ones I was making love to last couple months, they don’t give you five choices. They come one way, with a subtle, more blended and complex zing to them.

It ain’t fair, I know. I should have waited four years. Anyway, I’m here. Sigh. My new favorite restaurant?


Mon.–Fri. 2–11 p.m.; Sat.–Sun. 1–11 p.m.

211 Foothill, Oakl.

(510) 251-1657


Beer and wine

25 Lusk



DINE If you don’t know where Lusk Street is or have never even heard of it, please take a number and step to the back of the line. The name isn’t a joke, although it does sound as if the words “lust” and “luxe” collided on some drunken voluptuary’s lips. The street itself (right off Townsend between Third and Fourth streets) isn’t even a street, exactly; more like an alley. In an odd way it reminded me of Downing Street, in Whitehall, central London (home of the PM): a stub of pavement with no through traffic, lots of shiny black cars, and a strong sense of occasion. The occasion here would be the new restaurant 25 Lusk, whose big white neon signage glows brightly into the night. Nothing like it at Number 10.

Not since the advent of Bix, more than 20 years ago, has a restaurant brought such panache to an urban alley. And the resemblances run deeper: both restaurants have a strong vertical dimension inside: Bix its aerie-like mezzanine and soaring ceiling, 25 Lusk its main dining floor floating over a lounge that feels like a cross between Studio 54 and a ski lodge. (The building was once a meat-packing plant.) And both seem to attract high rollers. Indeed, my mole assured me that 25 Lusk was full of VC (venture capitalists) having expensive bottles of wine decanted while they sat around discussing what to do with the pots of money he’s sure they’ve been sitting on for the past three years.

I didn’t notice any obvious VC. The crowd reminded me of Boulevard’s, maybe slightly younger and hipper — except for the downstairs lounge, which was raucous with a definite whiff of pick-up scene with people laughing too loud and the odd shriek). All this is as it should be, because the restaurant is in the middle of a rising neighborhood, run by an in-their-prime duo (Chad Bourdon and Matthew Dolan) who are taking their first crack at running their own place on a theory of “approachable fine dining” — nice phrase, with an implicit condemnation of the other, stuffy kind.

Dolan’s food conforms to the familiar tropes of “seasonally driven” and “new American,” but mostly it struck me as intensely plated, meaning, a good deal of thought and energy got spent on presenting things. One advantage of this, apart from the aesthetic pleasure, is transparency: you can see everything. The disadvantage is that dishes are apt to be deconstructed to a greater or lesser degree, which can leave the bringing-together of flavors and effects in the diner’s hands.

The Sonoma foie gras torchon ($16), for instance, looked like a contemporary art display, with its block of paté, heap of spiced peanuts, stack of toast squares, scattering of roasted grapes, and dramatic smear of blueberry banyuls sauce across a quarter of the rectangular white plate. But … how to eat it gracefully? The toasts were of little use; they were like people who couldn’t bend their knees. The asparagus terrine ($14) too, was underconstructed, with a stack of beet-cured gravlax slices sitting at the side of the plate like gawkers.

Potato gnocchi ($14), nicely browned cylinders about the size of thumbnails, were a little easier to handle. They came in a shallow dish and were bolstered by braised, boneless short rib, which (with manchego cheese shavings) provided a nice glueyness. You do need binders for this kind of style. The grilled prawns ($26) — four sizable prawns neatly lined up like soldiers being reviewed — benefited from a berm of carrot puree as well as a thick bed of fabulously fragrant Japanese pepper grits, like lemony polenta.

The roasted quail ($26) was substantial and bolstered by a sauté of arugula and haricots verts that looked like a neglected garden being overrun by trailing vines. And Oregon steelhead ($26) featured a lovely slaw of shredded fennel root marinated in citrus along with lobster beignets, mysterious little fritters with no detectable taste of lobster. I add them to my growing dossier of proofs that lobster is overrated.

One item on the dessert menu neatly reprised, for me, my sense of 25 Lusk: the medjool date cake ($10) served with a pat of apricot ice cream and small thatch of candied ginger. The cake itself was splendid and datey, the ice cream intensely apricoty and not very sweet, and the candied ginger sublime. But they each stood apart on the plate, like young teenagers at a party, segregated by sex. “Go forth and mingle!” I longed to cry, before giving a lusty shove with my fork.


Dinner: Sun.–Thurs., 5:30–10 p.m.;

Fri.–Sat., 5:30–11 p.m.

Brunch: Sun., 11 a.m.–2 p.m.

25 Lusk, SF

(415) 495-5875


Full bar



Wheelchair accessible (elevator)


The world Maclaine made



FILM For a biographical abstract of Christopher Maclaine, try the famous first lines of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl. For greater precision, observe poet David Meltzer’s letter to film historian P. Adams Sitney (reproduced in Radical Light: Alternative Film and Video in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1945-2000): “Poet, filmmaker, stand-up comic, bagpiper, chaser of mysteries.” Meltzer’s letter continues, “In the mid-’60s sacrificed his nervous system to methedrine.” Stan Brakhage wrote of Maclaine, “He courted madness and he finally got it.” Before he did, he completed four films, the first of which — his preemptive magnum opus, The End (1953) — flattened a very young Brakhage at its infamous Art in Cinema premiere. Sixty-seven years after the museum crowd balked at Maclaine’s celluloid testament, the film is back at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

We still haven’t found the categories that will contain Maclaine’s non-sync film of revelations: a found-footage narrative composed of original materials; a lettrist pulp fiction; a proto-punk murder ballad radioed to the void; a hipster “duck and cover” drill with time enough for Beethoven and Bartok. Like Sunset Blvd. (1950), The End is narrated from beyond the grave — only this voice (Maclaine’s) speaks behind nuclear holocaust rather than mere murder. First thing, we see the mushroom cloud (annihilation was in the air: America had recently tested the hydrogen bomb in the Pacific). Maclaine insinuates us over extended black leader: “Soon we shall meet the cast. Observe them well. See if they are not yourselves. And if you find none of them to be so, then insert yourself into this revue.” The cast, he explains, were his friends: “They all have stories. We shall be able to learn a little about each of them before our time runs out.”

The following 30 minutes snakes through six sections and four clearly identified characters. Though the cast is unwitting of the coming apocalypse, they are not innocent of its destructive energies. Before the blast, two die by their own hand and one on the wrong side of a stranger’s gun. The fourth, an innocent poet in a cruel world (played by Wilder Bentley II, who will be in attendance for the Thurs., March 31 screening), seeks redemption as a leper. They are all on the run from America — each “couldn’t face the 20th century.” Maclaine’s montage scatters images from the different mini-narratives and pulls together a mash of insert motifs that function as another layer of poetic commentary — a lyrical compliment to the voice-over’s epic address.

The cubist construction of these episodes is such that you would know a bomb had gone off even if you hadn’t seen the mushroom cloud. Scholar J.J. Murphy helpfully suggests Charlie Parker’s phrasing as a possible influence on Maclaine’s frenzied cutting, though the North Beach Scotsman also seems to anticipate the rhythms of Blank Generations to come. There are many jolting connections throughout The End, some delightfully unforeseen (the Powell Street trolley turnaround next to a gun barrel’s spin) and others simply damning (dramatization of a suicide’s collapse intertwined with documentary footage of a homeless man flat on the street). The montage reaches its zenith in the film’s closing moments, when a tumble of images registering sexual release and last-gasp poignancy are set to “Ode to Joy” as final shards of the known world.

It’s hard to fathom The End‘s originality now that so many of its techniques have become familiar avant-garde strategies. At the time, most experimental films strove for self-conscious lyricism, drawing on abstraction, silence, and psychosexual expressionism to articulate a space outside society. Maclaine dramatizes the break, never more explicitly than when he directly addresses the audience (“The person next to you is a leper!”) With its strong conviction that death itself has changed, The End is often discussed as an expression of atomic-age nihilism. Even more radical is the way Maclaine channels what was then still a new mode of address: the live television feed, which Sen. Joe McCarthy was just then exploiting in his Voice of America hearings. A decade before Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media, Maclaine intuits the connections between medium and message — the mushroom cloud and television being two sides of the same terrifying totality.

Maclaine made only three short films after The End, all of which will be shown Thursday night: The Man Who Invented Gold (1957), Beat (1958), and Scotch Hop (1959). None of these match The End‘s x-ray vision, although The Man Who Invented Gold and Beat both unfold the same vivid imagination of the San Francisco terrain. Scotch Hop is something different and, on first viewing, my favorite of the later works: the Scotsman’s equivalent of Olympia (1938), with low angles and slow motion placing bagpipers, log-throwers, and fiercely proud dancers on a heroic plain. Brakhage claims it a masterpiece in his poignant remembrance of Maclaine in his book Film at Wit’s End, but there’s little doubt that The End had the more profound impact on his own filmmaking — specifically in the way it demonstrated the liberating effects of a film grammar built of “mistakes.”

Meanwhile, the search for Maclaine continues in a serial analysis of The End on SFMOMA’s Open Space blog by filmmaker and projectionist Brecht Andersch in collaboration with Hell on Frisco Bay blogger Brian Darr. As of this writing, “The The End Tour” has reached its 15th installment. All together, it constitutes a supremely dedicated work of media archaeology, and one of the liveliest works of film criticism I’ve encountered in some time. Andersch and Darr’s spirited dissection of the film’s psychogeographic dynamics has illuminated the film’s subliminal operations as well as its creative mapping of the local landscape. Most remarkable is their discovery that a prominent patch of graffiti (“PRAY”) that appears in the film is still tattooed on a China Beach wall — as if Maclaine’s imagined nuclear blast fixed it there for all time.


Thurs/31, 7 p.m., $10

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

151 Third St., SF

(415) 357-4000



A third space to call their own



EAT HANG LOVE Every neighborhood has its ups and downs, but when it comes to Sixth and Market streets, many shop owners and residents will tell you all about the downs — street crime, homelessness, and substance abuse, to name a few. But despite warnings of stormy weather, one café and community art space has dropped anchor to serve this neighborhood. With affordable food, superior coffee, and accessible seating areas for creativity and connection, Rancho Parnassus provides a living room for neighborhood characters stuffed into cramped apartments and dirty streetscapes. But it hasn’t been easy — the good guys behind the endeavor worry that it may come down to sink or swim.

Weary of the nautical analogies yet? It’s hard not to make them after setting foot in the cafe, whose interior resembles the inside of a ship at sea. With big wooden furniture sets, photographs from group art shows hanging from ropes — not to mention the sailing equipment, bright blue walls, wooden barrels, plastic fish, and ship wheel décor — even the tiny kitchen is modeled after the galley of a ship.

Owner Andy Harris says the nautical motif is no coincidence. From behind the kitchen counter on a slow weekday morning he tells us that “the idea is that when you come in here, you’re going somewhere. You are on a ship, you’re on a journey. I don’t like static spaces — I’m trying to give people that come in here a feeling of motion.”

A lot of the lingo that Harris uses when he talks about the ideology behind Rancho Parnassus comes from the new urbanism movement. “It’s about revitalizing America’s cities rather than encouraging people to flee to the suburbs. The café and corner store are really important — they’re examples of third space, a space that is neither home nor work. That’s what this community was missing: a casual, affordably priced all-day, all-ages hangout.”

Harris refers to Rancho Parnassus mostly as a “creative hub,” and emphasizes that the food and coffee come second. But it’s hard to ignore the high quality and low prices of the coffee and food. Harris makes every cup of joe fresh using an aeropress, which is similar to a French press but with an even smaller microfilter, resulting in a brew that’s strong and tasty.

And when it comes to the menu, Harris depends on Tony Thomas, his chef and right-hand man. Thomas, a musician and performer who says he grew up cooking in his family’s now-defunct SF restaurant, was a regular at Rancho Parnassus before he got his current gig. He says he came in to play the piano one day when he spied Harris, frazzled to get through a morning rush. “He was sweatin’,” Thomas recalls. Eager to help, the cook jumped behind the counter and started frying eggs and toasting bread. He never looked back.

As Thomas tells us his story, a regular comes in to order a brioche bun stuffed with sausage, gorgonzola, spinach, and bacon, which shows up on Rancho’s menu as “The Bird in the Hand.” In keeping with the rest of the sustenance on offer, the sandwich is affordably priced — $2.50.

Although Harris and Thomas say that food costs are low, Sixth Street isn’t a big money-making location. They worry that this free art and performance space — the dining room is regularly rented out to creative types from around the city — and café might not be open much longer. It’s a frustrating reality for Harris, who knows he will “never get rich off of this space” and is more interested in his cafe’s social mission.

A typical Rancho afternoon is enough proof that the cafe means a lot to its regulars. Most days you’ll find the street artist who goes by the name of Big Face using the space as his personal studio, constructing collages at the café tables or on an easel. Around him other patrons work on their laptops or use the café’s public Apple computer, talking, eating, or just sitting quietly. “I don’t make a big fuss about anyone buying anything,” Harris says. “I want people to hang out, and we are certainly never going to push anyone out as long as they are polite and not disturbing the creative environment.”

The community members familiar with Rancho Parnassus vouch that the space makes them feel welcome. “I kind of wandered in by accident,” says Adrien, a 20-year resident of the neighborhood who lives two blocks away. Adrien comes in every day for breakfast and to do work in the morning. “There’s really no other place around here like this. There is a more relaxed vibe here between the décor, the music, and the people who work here. Other places are similar but they get too crowded and it’s more ‘get in, get out.’ “

Harris says it will be up to the community and the economy to keep Rancho Parnassus open. Although the café has a community agenda, it’s still a business, which means it won’t be receiving grants or funding from outside organizations. “There’s no grant for ‘really wonderful café — let’s get them to stay open,’ ” Harris says. When he talks about the struggle to stay afloat, you can tell he thinks the stakes are high. “It’s such a great thing for this neighborhood. So many depend on us to be here.” 

RANCHO PARNASSUS Mon.–Sat. 6 a.m.–7 p.m. 505 Minna, SF (415) 503-0700 www.ranchoparnassus.com


Exercises in style



HAIRY EYEBALL Will Yackulic’s return to painting has none of the grandiosity or pretension that the phrase “return to painting” might suggest. Rather, Yackulic’s abstract canvases at Gregory Lind offer a contained (one might say modest, even, as each rectangle measures in the neighborhood of 144 square inches) but no less exhilarating exploration of the tension between the two qualities of his work that are so perfectly pinpointed by the show’s title, “Precision and Precarity.”

Although it has been six years since Yackulic last picked up a brush, his approach here is not unlike the works on paper he has steadily created in the interim. Much like his wave fields made from the dense accumulation of precisely spaced typewriter keystrokes, there is a finessing of the medium in this new group of (mostly) oil paintings that never claims mastery. The material seems to have had as much of the final say as the artist’s hand.

The subject of the conversation — geometric abstraction — has been a recurring one for Yackulic. This time, instead of floating geodesic orbs, the starting point was a Jenga-like stack of woodshop scraps Yackulic constructed and then set about capturing using a variety of colors, paint application techniques, perspectives, and degrees of abstraction. One canvas, the appropriately titled Smolder, even appears to have been burnt with a cigarette.

Some paintings come across as proper still lifes, engaging with the woodpile as a physical object. Taken together, the heavy yolk-yellow highlights and brown shadows of Claypool’s and the nocturnal blues and watery purples of Crepuscular and Evening Arrangement form a dance of the hours played across what could be a model of one of mid-20-century architect Joseph Eichler’s experiments in suburban modernism.

Other canvases respond to the form as a prompt about pure shape, discarding fixed dimensionality. In Over/Under, jutting lines become breakwalls for an incoming tide of indigo that has spilled over into the canvas’ azure lower half. Yackulic also employs other shapes (the cross-hatches in XXX, the Easter-ish green and pink dots of Sick Day) to colonize what becomes, over the course of the show, familiar terrain.

All this shape shifting brings to mind Raymond Queneau’s Exercises in Style (1949), in which the experimental French writer retells the same banal incident 99 times employing a different voice, genre, or formal device with each successive iteration. Yackulic does much of the same thing in “Precision and Precarity,” only the story he’s retelling is the abstract tradition in modern art.

Retelling, though, shouldn’t be confused with repeating, and Yackulic doesn’t shy away from giving his exercises in style some bite when necessary. The aforementioned Smolder, although hung closest to the gallery’s entrance, provides a humorous coda to the rest of the show. Slanted lines, suggestive of the beams of Yackulic’s original model, disappear into a black cloud of pencil smudge as if to playfully say, “You know what else depends on precision and precarity? Arson.”



Camilla Newhagen’s soft sculptures made from everyday clothing are anything but soft. Bras and reclaimed suits are stuffed full of polyester and contorted into unsettling anthropomorphic forms reminiscent of Hans Bellmer’s monstrous feminine sculptures. However, the strongest piece in the powerful but small selection of Newhagen’s work now at Jack Fischer is the least assuming: a man’s white Oxford shirt on a hanger, sheared of everything save its collar and one sleeve, and tacked to the wall with the aid of invisible push pins.

Ghostly and extremely sensuous, Pin Point Oxford evacuates gender and class from an overly marked and rather quotidian garment. The white button-down is no longer so buttoned-down. Much like the work of Belgian designer Martin Margiela, who famously fashioned dresses to look like dress-forms and vests from leather gloves, Newhagen has created a piece of irresistible anti-clothing. It’s a pity you can’t slip it on. *


Through April 30

Gregory Lind Gallery

49 Geary, Fifth Floor

(415) 296-9661



Through May 7

Jack Fischer Gallery

49 Geary

(415) 956-1178


From East Coast to West



MUSIC I guess there’s some redemption for America in that it can still produce someone like Kurt Vile, a pure rock musician, to the manner (rather than to the manor) born.

Last spring I caught Philadelphia’s Vile in the Hemlock Tavern’s crowded back room, and instead of blowing everyone away with a crowd-pleasing performance, he did something different, going deep into his songs to a degree that the audience was an afterthought. This wasn’t Catpower-style meandering as lame performance art, it was a musician working with his guitar. Jay Reatard had died a few months earlier, and for me, there was a sense of relief that his introverted counterpart Vile seemed so engaged with what he was doing, with his calling.

Vile’s new album Smoke Ring For My Halo (Matador) is the best studio effort by him and his band, the Violators, and roughly the equal of his superb 2008 collection of stripped-down solo recordings, Constant Hitmaker. The instrumental chops are top notch, a rarity in indie land. Vile wears a Midwestern twang like a fine middle-finger salute when he isn’t doing his best son-of-Iggy on “Puppet to the Man.”

Throughout Smoke Ring For My Halo, the couplets flow freely: “Society is my friend/ He makes me lie down in a cold bloodbath”; “If it ain’t workin’ take a whiz on the world/ An entire nation drinkin’ from a dirty cup/ My best friend’s long gone, but I got runner-ups” “I don’t want to give up but I kind of want to lie down/ But not sleep, just rest.” Vile shrinks himself to Tom Thumb proportions to fit into his baby’s hand, and plays the role of peeping tom captivated by a tomboy. He goes back and forth between deadpan morbid or devastating observations and just-joshing asides, all the while maintaining the disconcerting familiarity of a bar-stool neighbor.

Vile and his band peak with “On Tour,” which turns the lonely romanticism of an on-the-road ballad into a Lord of the Flies scenario within its first two lines. The song blankly presents the visions of a traveling musician — and restlessly contemplates the idea of the traveling musician — then torches all of it. “Oh yeah,” Vile drawls, at the quiet onset of a thunderous instrumental passage that’s totally shiver-inducing. Oh yeah is right.

Cass McCombs’ has spent time in the Midwest, but it was a passage in a Californian son’s vagabond travels. McCombs is more of a stately chap, his voice a little higher and prettier, his arrangements — while also country-tinged — a little more chamber-like and precise, his Poe-tinged fatal lyricism more literary and bookish. The lyrics for Wit’s End (Domino), his follow-up to 2009’s impressive Catacombs, are printed in English and German.

Like Vile’s, McCombs’ portraits of American life are defined in relation to death. There’s more quiet and open space in his compositions, yet when he sings “I can smell the columbine” on the opening “County Line,” he’s finding wildflowers trampled beneath a landscape — and world of meaning — familiar with high-school massacres. This is someone who gave a tune about a guy who loves his job the title “The Executioner’s Song.”

At eight songs, Wit’s End, due out in late April, doesn’t overstay its welcome. “County Line” takes the keening, solitary atmosphere of 1970s radio ballads such as Paul Davis’ “I Go Crazy” or the Eagles’ “I Can’t Tell You Why” and replaces their fantasies of love with an empty landscape.

The song that follows, “The Lonely Doll,” is even more brash in its formal marriage of poeticism and storytelling. It could be heard as an answer-song to France Gall’s Serge Gainsbourg-penned 1965 hit “Poupée de cire, poupée de son,” which was covered as “Lonely Singing Doll” by Twinkle in 1965 and Anika last year. An unsettling lullaby, “The Lonely Doll” is a voyeur scenario to match Vile’s “Peeping Tomboy.” But there and elsewhere on Wit’s End — “Saturday Song,” in particularthe writing, sometimes piano-based, is more evocative of Kurt Weill than Kurt Vile. 


With RTX

April 22, 10 p.m.; $12–$14; all ages

Bottom of the Hill

1233, 17th St., SF

(415) 621-4455



With Frank Fairfield

May 5, 8 p.m.; $15; all ages

Swedish American Hall

2170 Market, SF

(415) 861-5016


Animal instinct


PETS A pet-free existence — who needs it? Creature comfort can’t be underestimated, whether you’re ready for a one-time volunteer session, a casual relationship, or some long-term lovin’.



In this country of serious pet overpopulation, there’s no need to buy your next animal companion from a pet store. Whatever you’re looking for — cats, dogs, parakeets, rabbits, mice, rats, chickens, snakes, lizards, even chinchillas — the odds are good that some local shelter or rescue group will have one waiting to be adopted.

Animal advocates (and even some pet stores) urge seekers of furry, scaly, or feathered companions to think adoption first. “That’s been our message for years,” said Jennifer Scarlett, co-president of the San Francisco SPCA.

In most cases adopted pets work out better for the animal and the human, notes Deb Campbell, spokesperson for the city’s Animal Control Commission. “People who impulsively buy pets tend to have more problems,” she said.

In this city alone, there are too many unwanted dogs and cats — many the result of backyard breeders and owners who fail to get their animals spayed or neutered. And with the recession, more people have been forced to give up their pets. So adoptable creatures abound.

If dogs are your thing, the SPCA (www.sfspca.org) and the city shelter (www.animalshelter.sfgov.org) have dozens waiting for the right home. So do several local rescue groups. Wonder Dog Rescue (www.wonderdogrescue.org), Rocket Dog Rescue (www.rocketdogrescue.org), Family Dog Rescue (www.norcalfamilydogrescue.org), and Grateful Dogs Rescue (www.gratefuldogsrescue.org) all offer large and small pups of all ages and breeds for adoption— you can even snag a ex-racer from Golden State Greyhound Rescue (www.goldengreyhounds.com).

Many adoption programs are able to give you the lowdown on your prospective pet’s personality. “Our dogs all live in foster homes, so we have a real sense of what they’re like and how they interact,” says Wonder Dog’s Linda Beenau.

Muttville (www.muttville.org) specializes in placing older dogs. “With a senior dog, you know exactly what you’re going to get,” said Sherri Franklin, the group’s founder. “We evaluate the people who are looking to adopt, evaluate the dogs, and try to fill everyone’s need. We’re matchmakers.”

Shelters and rescue groups spend a lot of money making sure the animals they adopt out are in good medical condition (and won’t reproduce).

Cats are the most popular pets in the city, and the SPCA and the city shelter both offer cat adoptions. “We adopt out about 4,000 animals a year, and two-thirds are cats,” said Scarlett. There’s even a working-cat program for feral cats that may not be cuddly but can offer businesses an organic solution to rodent problems.

But the list doesn’t stop there. The city shelter “adopts out small exotic animals, fish, birds, poultry — you name it,” Campbell said. “It’s illegal to buy a rabbit in San Francisco, but you can adopt one from us.”

“Chickens are very popular pets these days,” she added. “They can give you breakfast.” (Tim Redmond)



We don’t know about you, but seeing precious pets cooped up in cramped shelter cages — well, it makes us knock over garbage cans, spray urine on an expensive sofa, and caterwaul at the moon. And this is a country that euthanizes between 50 percent and 70 percent of its shelter animals. Sorry to be a bummer. But you can help, even if you’re not ready for a 10-year commitment. Really — you can!

Fostering a pet serves a lot of purposes. First, for us flighty city creatures, it provides a low-commitment avenue to pet ownership. Second, to foster is to play a vital role in the shelter system. Many of the city’s smaller animal rescue organizations and humane societies couldn’t exist without a network of caring foster homes to nurture pets while their shelter facilities are full. And for some, saving animals from shelter euthanasia wouldn’t be possible without temporary homes.

“We’re a grassroots organization that doesn’t have a brick and mortar location besides our three adoption sites,” says Lana Bajsel of Give Me Shelter cat rescue, a group that typically cares for 54 cats at a time. “The fosters serve as our safety net. Their role is crucial.”

Cats and dogs aren’t the only cuddly creatures that can join your family for a short period of time. Wonder Cat (wondercatrescue.petfinder.com), Pets in Need (www.petsinneed.org), Furry Friends Rescue (www.furryfriendsrescue.org), and Rocket Dog Rescue do concentrate on dogs and cats, but you can also foster a rabbit through Save A Bunny (www.saveabunny.org) or birds through Mickaboo Companion Bird Rescue (www.mickaboo.org).

Foster systems provide a way for many shelters to save furry friends that are long-shot adoptees or would fare poorly in cages. The SPCA’s “fospice” program can match you with a chronically ill (but not contagious) pet that needs your love. As in most foster programs, the SPCA will pay for any medical care fospice animals need (although as a foster parent, you’re usually responsible for food and other daily needs).

Organizational requirements vary from group to group, but Bajsel says that most of the time all it takes to be a foster parent is a safe home (for example, no windows without screens that open onto busy streets), your landlord’s permission, and preferably, a little animal savvy. “But we’ve placed cats with fosters who have never had one before. In those cases, we can provide a little more hand holding” she says.

With such demonstrable need, most organizations will accept any help you can give — even if it means a little something before you leave on your summer vacation. It’s really contingent on you, the foster parent. “The time commitment can be as little as two weeks,” Bajsel says. (Caitlin Donohue)



Say your flea trap apartment or Scrooge-like landlord prohibits adopting or fostering — you can always volunteer at one of the many Bay Area organizations dedicated to animal welfare. Once you catch the scent of the needy pooches, cats, rats, and people dedicated to saving them, it’ll be tough not to volunteer.

Cat lovers will feel right at home at Give Me Shelter cat rescue, which can use your help with anything from petting a purr-er to cleaning cages to lending a hand at adoption events. If you’re more of a man’s best friend kind of gal or boy, lend a hand at one of the city’s incredible dog shelters. Muttville can hook you up with a variety of ways to get involved, including matching elderly dogs with lonely older folks as part of its heart-melting “seniors for seniors” program.

Rocket Dog Rescue is another all-breed dog rescue organization with a mission to save animals “at the speed of light.” Learn more at one of its volunteer orientations on second Sundays of the month.

Bad Rap (www.badrap.org) stands for Bay Area Dog Lovers Responsible About Pit Bulls, a group that’s serious about reeducating the public about pits, as well as getting perfectly adoptable pits placed with loving owners. Volunteers with the group will discover the secret world of big, barrel-headed sweethearts — and their ardent admirers. Bad Rap needs volunteers who can show up on Saturdays to train pits on leash skills at Berkeley Animal Care Service.

It doesn’t take an overly sappy soul to see the appeal in puppies and kitties, but can all our rodent people please stand up? Rattie Ratz (www.rattieratz.com) is a sweet-hearted organization in Woodside that rescues rats and treats these surprisingly amenable pets with respect. The group is all about rat rescue, resources, and referrals, and needs volunteers to help with animal therapy programs, adoption, fostering, and education.

Finally, we know that some of the sweetest creatures can’t be happily held — but they can still use your help! You can lend a hand at the Marine Mammal Center (www.marinemammalcenter.org) by getting trained to find and transport stranded animals and bring them to medical centers. Wild Care also (www.wildcarebayarea.org) has plenty of volunteer opportunities to help save Bay Area wildlife — it needs folks to work the hotline call center, do outreach education, and work directly with pet hospital staff. (Hannah Tepper)

When kitties attack



PETS Our cat Spartacus has a reputation for being a bit of a badass. But we never thought he’d end up under house arrest with a rap sheet from the police.

It’s true that he still has the tightly muscled body of a tomcat who came in from the cold a couple of winters ago and stayed after we gave him food and a safe place to sleep. But he’s settled down a lot since we got him fixed. He’ll still bounce other cats from our yard and growls if you tip him out of his favorite chair. But he doesn’t bite people. Or so I thought, until I scooped him out of the path of an unleashed dog one February night and he sunk his teeth into my wrist so fast I didn’t even realize I’d been bitten.

But my wrist began to feel like it had been stung, and soon I noticed a swelling the size of a marble with four tiny tooth marks adorning my wrist. Since it happened at midnight, and since my tetanus shots and Spartacus’ rabies vaccinations were up to date, I simply washed and disinfected the wound, planning to see my doctor the following morning.

“They’re like snake bites,” veterinarian Marie-Anne Wooley told me when I sought solace for Spartacus’ sins. “A cat’s teeth are long and sharp and when they pull out, the holes seal over, trapping the bacteria. Dogs mash things around so their bites are more open, making them easier to clean.”

The doc immediately put me on antibiotics and said to come back if my wrist — already stiff and swollen — got worse. When a rash began spreading up my arm the following night, I headed for the emergency room, where they gave me an intravenous infusion of antibiotics.

“You have an infection of the skin called cellulitis,” the ER doctor said, drawing ink lines on my skin to show how the infection had spread to my elbow and fingers.

She ordered me keep my arm elevated above my heart to prevent the infection from reaching my heart. And before I left the hospital, a police officer took an animal bite report. Animal Control told me to keep Spartacus inside for 10 days.

Even though I spent the next day bedridden, the bite tingled, hurt, and itched every time I lowered my hand. It took three visits to the ER, four days off from work, and two weeks of heavy-duty antibiotics before I was fully healed.

Judy Kivowitz, a nurse at Noe Valley Pediatrics, has seen squirrel, rat, snake, chipmunk, spider, even possible bat bites in the course of her work, and says treating animal bites varies widely.

“It depends on the animal — whether they are a pet and have had their rabies shots.” If you have been bitten by someone’s pet, you should wash, disinfect, apply Neosporin to the area, and inquire about the animal’s vaccine status. Kivowitz notes that even if the animal is known, it should be quarantined for 10 days after biting someone.

Maybe we could all learn from Kivowitz’s three basic steps in animal interaction, which she teaches in an animal-handling class she holds for toddlers. “Ask permission from the animal’s mom and dad to touch it. Do one-finger petting. And don’t look an animal in the eye — even if you know them.”

Or perhaps more to the point, you can do what my doctor told me to do if it happens again with Spartacus. “Next time, try dousing the cat and dog with water instead of putting your arm in the way.” Duh.

Beyond Fido



PETS You can’t keep a hedgehog, ferret, or sugar glider as a pet — legally — in California. But don’t worry, there are still plenty of options when it comes to unusual creatures to keep your pad rad. Read on for exotic animals you can enjoy right here in the city.



In addition to what he claims is the largest exotic bug store in the country, Ken the Bug Guy (www.kenthebugguy.com) is the proud parent of tail-less whip scorpions that he’s raised from babies. At two and a half years old, they’re only half-grown, but Ken is eagerly monitoring their progression from weanling to adult.

“We don’t usually get to see the whole process,” he says, explaining that most of his scorpions — which hail from the order amblypygi, meaning “blunt rump” — are imported from breeders abroad. A mama amblypygid lays a sac of eggs and carries it under her belly until the eggs hatch. In the wild, she would then pile the babies on her back, protecting and feeding them. In captivity (where food is plentiful and predators scarce), the babies are separated from their mother to sell to a distributor like Ken.

The benefits of a blunt rump to call your own? They’re “crazy-looking, like an alien,” according to Ken. They also live seven to 10 years, don’t sting or bite, and have interesting, complex social structures like wolves.

“They’re completely harmless,” Ken emphasizes. “Little kids can hold them and play with them, and they only need to be fed once a week and have their cage misted a bit.”



Get it straight: dancer Jim Berenholtz’s red tail boas, African ball pythons, and Central American boas aren’t his pets — they’re flatmates.

“They’re other beings that share my living space, but I don’t own them, and they don’t own me. We’re all equal partners,” he tells us. They’re also costars.

Berenholtz has been performing with his snakes since 1989, when he debuted his act on his birthday, the eve of the Chinese Year of the Snake. A “powerful dream” prompted him to try snake dancing and in 2003, he started Serpentium, a troupe that dances for corporate events and for celebrities in the Bay Area and beyond. Over the years, Berenholtz has performed with some 16 to 20 different animals, sometimes with as many as seven at a time.

“I respond to their movements, and they respond to mine,” he says. “You may have seen belly dancers performing with snakes as props. But for me they’re not props. They’re living beings that I interact with as if they were a human partner.”

At home, his menagerie has grown organically — some of his animals have bred and produced offspring, others he adopted when previous owners could no longer care for them.

Though nearly all reptiles need to stay under heat lamps in this chilly city — East Bay Vivarium (www.eastbayvivarium.com) has space heaters for your scaly ones — Berenholtz will occasionally take his snake friends out of their aquariums and allow them to wrap their bodies around his while he’s lounging to “give them time outside of their tanks and to enjoy their presence.”



Love the kitties, but not their dander? You may have heard that hairless cats can provide your feline fix sans sneezes. But if the alarmingly naked critters give you the cold willies over the warm fuzzies, there’s another way.

Patty Royall owns Sugar, a Cornish Rex with extremely fine, soft, curly hair. The breed, along with the related Devon Rex, is defined by a lack of all fur except a thin undercoat of down, which is said to be hypoallergenic. The breed’s characteristics are the result of a genetic mutation preserved from a litter born in 1950s Cornwall in the United Kingdom.

Like most Rexes, Sugar is often cold. The cats are known to hang out around light bulbs and computer monitors, but Sugar takes a more straightforward approach: she’ll simply jump under the bed covers and stay curled up all day, Royall says. Luckily, if you’re considering a Rex of your own, Royall has found a convenient solution for the chills. She uses a microwaveable heating pad that stays hot for about nine hours. Try a SnuggleSafe heat pad (www.snugglesafe.co.uk/), available at Pawtrero pet supply store (www.pawtrero.com).

What about baking in the summer sun? Royall has heard that some people use sunscreen on their Cornish Rexes, but — given how cats groom themselves by licking — she doesn’t think that’s the best idea.



Elizabeth Young is the founding director of Mickacoo Pigeon and Dove Rescue (www.mickacoo.org, a division of SF-based Mickaboo Companion Bird Rescue), but if you’re thinking about the greasy green-and-gray birds you plow through every day on the sidewalk, think again. The birds Young rescues are primarily king pigeons, a pure white domestic breed that — unlike San Fran’s feral flocks — can’t survive outdoors on their own.

“They’re good-natured, easygoing, adaptable pets,” Young says. “They’re experts at the leisure arts — lounging, flirting, snacking, napping.” She adds that because of their mellow nature, they’re not demanding companions and do very well indoors or in an outdoor aviary.

Young says her seven pigeons have distinct personalities and form monogamous pairs — a characteristic that leads her to personify her birds’ love lives as though they were soap-opera biddies, describing, for example, how once-shy Frances eventually won the heart of widowed Country.

The birds are affectionate toward people, too. The aforementioned Frances comes hurtling down the hall when Young calls him, screeching by and then turning on a dime to locate Young. Because the birds are quiet, don’t chew, and don’t bite, they are ideal for homes where dogs are not an option.

The only problem with pigeons is that, unlike dogs, they can’t be housebroken. Luckily, the fine people at BirdWearOnline.com (www.birdwearonline.com) have invented pigeon pants — stylish suits that Young heartily endorses.

Paw bump


For the past couple of years, Pawesome.net has been the Gawker of fuzzy cuddliness, collecting all the coolest, most relevant pet news onto one — yes — awesome blog. From in depth stories about Dogs of the Ninth Ward and Japanese disaster animal rescue help to peeps at intriguing and sometimes scandalous pet trends and products, Pawesome covers it all with fine feathered flair. Local BFF founders Sonia Zjawinski and Sarah Han (formerly of the Guardian) chatted with us over e-mail. 

SFBG Pawesome is very active about animal welfare — what are some of the issues you’ve covered that have meant the most to you?

Sonia Zjawinski It’s the awful stories of abuse and neglect that often go viral, but for every horrible person out there we believe there are thousands of kind, selfless people who truly care about animals. For example, last year we posted about a group of Brooklyn bartenders who got together to save an abused and sick stray puppy. A lot of people walk past animals in need and think there’s nothing they can do, but this generous group proved that it doesn’t take much to help and the reward is priceless.

Sarah Han I’m a huge advocate for getting people to adopt from shelters and rescue groups. I find it really sad that there are so many perfectly adoptable animals in shelters that are at risk of being put down because people are still buying pets from breeders and pet stores. I’m all for the ban of selling animals in pet stores in San Francisco, and everywhere else in the country. I’m also a fan of rescue groups that focus on older pet adoptions, like Muttville in San Francisco. I love senior cats and dogs because they’re usually pretty chill dudes.

SFBG Which Pawesome post is your favorite?

SZ Last year’s April Fool’s joke — we wrote that Stephen Colbert bought Cat Fancy and was rebranding the magazine as Colbert’s Cat Nation. No calls from Colbert’s people asking us to come on the show yet, though.

SFBG What are some interesting trends or story lines happening now on the pet scene?

SZ One of the most exciting areas in the pet industry is the influx of goods on Etsy. The world of toys and accessories used to be very limited, and you were stuck with ones made out of eco-unfriendly materials produced in even more eco-unfriendly countries. With Etsy, there’s an amazing collection of handmade gear crafted out of organic or sustainable materials, and made right here in the States. And it’s stuff you won’t gag at when you see it in your home.

SH I’ve noticed that people are paying more attention to what their pets are eating these days. The pet food recalls definitely got people thinking about all the crap that big commercial companies (and even some pet “health food” companies) get away with. People are also concerned with pet obesity. As our lives get busier, we get fatter and so do our pets. There’s a pet-people gym in Bernal Heights (Fit Bernal Fit) and doggy yoga classes for folks to get in shape while exercising their dogs, too.

I think we’ll be hearing about more of those kinds of services in the future, and maybe because of the off-leash dog issue that’s been raging in SF. Dog owners are feeling very threatened by the GGNRA possibly ending their off-leash privileges in outdoor spaces. I’m torn on the issue because I think dogs need and love outdoor time, but I also believe in protecting what wildlife we have left in the city. Hopefully we can come to an agreement that allows for everyone, including dogs, to enjoy the outdoors.

Fernando Di Leo, glorious bastard


ITALIAN CRIME CINEMA Italian cinema has a long history of innovators, but — like every other country, albeit more so — it survived commercially for decades via genre imitators. Fellini, Antonioni, Visconti, Pasolini, Bertolucci, and so on couldn’t have existed without the fiscal cushion provided by genre-feeds to the international market: first via mythological muscle man fantasies that reduced Hollywood’s Cecil B. DeMille-styled antiquity epics to more cost-effective displays of simple brawn, spear-throwing, and horse-riding over Hollywood-level stars and production values. Then via spaghetti westerns that made Clint Eastwood the star he hadn’t become on home turf, reworking a quintessentially American genre toward border-blurring maxi-minimalism.

That was the 1950s and ’60s. Fernando Di Leo began as a scenarist, contributing to myriad spaghetti westerns including Sergio Leone’s Dollars films, though he never liked the genre. (“Happily, I have a great capacity for writing incredible crap.”) He stirred controversy with early directorial efforts about female sexual frigidity and juvenile delinquency, really hitting his stride with a series of the violent crime dramas that dominated 1970s Italian commercial cinema — alongside horror films and the neverending sex comedy genre.

Often tapping the “elephant’s graveyard” of past-prime Hollywood actors who preferred to take starring or lucrative “guest star” roles in European films rather than support whippersnappers back home, these movies were made with the international market in mind. Some are even baldly imitative of The French Connection (1971), The Godfather (1972), Serpico (1973), and other influential U.S. hits of the era, to the point of unconvincingly fudging cultural and geographic compasses.

But while Di Leo’s films duly mixed veteran American actors into “Europudding” casts, his poliziotteschi exercises (he later voiced a preference for the term “noir”) were specifically Italian, with strong undercurrents of social criticism toward corrupt cops, politicians, and church officials — particularly those who’d disingenuously claim the Mafia “no longer existed.”

It certainly existed in these movies, four of which are showcased in “Fernando Di Leo: The Italian Crime Collection,” a box set representing DVD specialty label RaroVideo’s launch into the U.S. market. (It’s simultaneously releasing Fellini’s 1971 circus homage The Clowns as well.) It’s quickly apparent why this director was a professed huge influence on Quentin Tarantino, though they differ in politics (does QT have any?) and taste for verbal pyrotechnics (of which QT has arguably too much). The flamboyant tough guys played by beloved character actors, intricately internecine plots, explosions of outré violence, and vintage leisure-suited cool, however, passed from one to the other like DNA.

Caliber 9 (1972), first of the “Milieu Trilogy,” starts out as an unremarkable series of you-hit-me, I-hit-you shootings and explosions in the wake of the disappearance of $300,000 after a robbery. Primary suspicion falls on stony Ugo (Gastone Moschin, hitherto a comic actor), a bagman just out of prison who steadfastly denies that he absconded with the loot belonging to crime boss “the Americano.” But by the end every last viewer certainty has been overturned.

Mario Adorf, cast as the loudest, most obnoxious of Ugo’s mob tormentors, becomes the lead in that same year’s The Italian Connection, playing a small-time Milan pimp framed for a heroin shipment’s theft — and as a result hunted by two imported U.S. hit men. They’re sleazy career villain Howard Silva and John Ford’s towering, poker-faced fave Woody Strode, who both worked for Di Leo again. (He enjoyed repeatedly working with certain actors.) They provided the model for John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson’s scrapping double team in 1994’s Pulp Fiction.

A private-screening-room massacre at the start of 1973’s The Boss doubtless provided blueprint for the fiery climax of 2009’s Inglourious Basterds. Not that the two are otherwise related — this tale of Sicilian mob wars has a don’s university-student daughter kidnapped by rivals as revenge for that earlier act, then “rescued” by Silva’s stone-cold contract killer.

But the misogyny that surfaces fairly briefly in Caliber and Connection takes alarming precedence here: adapting to her gang-raping captors like fish to water, Rina (Antonia Santilli) proves a nymphomaniac pothead alcoholic, insatiable every which way. She’s a degrading “rich bitch” cartoon that must have horrified its few female viewers at the height of women’s lib. (No wonder Santilli abandoned her short screen career almost immediately afterward.) At least The Boss outruns that sour shit with a last lap of spectacular twistiness. A professed womanizer, Di Leo now seems like an auteur who should have left female characters the hell alone.

The RaroVideo box ends with 1976’s exceptionally stylish and perverse Rulers of the City, a.k.a. Mr. Scarface, in which a child survivor of a mob slaughter (Fassbinder regular Harry Baer) grows up to avenge himself on don Jack Palance (“Just looking at him and my asshole twitches,” an underling opines), who exercised reptilian zest decades before his exhibitionist-pushup Oscar comeback. But he’s not the only one: a Shirley Temple-bewigged chanteuse vamp (Gisela Hahn) in see-through lingerie sings about abortion just before being glimpsed in a postcoital five-way with participants including too-pretty ice-blond Al Cliver (a.k.a. Pierluigi Conti). Culminating in a foot race as clever as the automotive climaxes of Bullitt (1968) and The French Connection, this is a baroque, self-mocking melodrama you’d be hard-pressed not to love.

Di Leo ended the decade with two highlights among many lurid debtors to 1972’s Last House on the Left: Notorious To Be Twenty (1978), whose free-spirited young heroines meet a brutal fate all the more shocking for its coming out of the blue after 80-odd minutes of comic frivolity; and Madness (1980), wherein Joe Dallesandro terrorizes a bourgeoisie household. But the films Di Leo liked to make were now unfashionable in a shrunken market, Italian financiers favoring crass new local tastes for gore-horror and softcore sleaze. After two dispirited mid-1980s action films he retired, still in his early 50s. Before his 2003 death he enjoyed revived attention thanks to cult enthusiasts led by guess who. These movies all look sharp in their DVD restorations, offered English both dubbed and subtitled. (There were precious few “original language” Italian features then — everything was post-synched, into whatever required languages.) The box set’s accompanying booklet features a 2001 interview with the director in which he’s both frankly self-critical and astonishingly hubristic.